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ONU professor to present research on psychedelics and PTSD

Phillip Zoladz, Ph.D., Ohio Northern University professor of psychology, will present his research findings on psychedelics at a press conference to be held at the November 2023 Society for Neuroscience conference in Washington, D.C. His research explores the potential of psilocybin to enhance exposure therapy’s effectiveness in individuals suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Zoladz is one of several presenters the Society selected to introduce their intriguing and important findings to journalists.

Zoladz’s research could have significant implications for PTSD sufferers who often grapple with powerful fear memories that cause distressing physiological and psychological symptoms. For instance, soldiers returning from combat frequently associate environmental stimuli, such as loud noises, smells, visual cues, and more, with negative events they experienced during their service. These environmental cues can trigger strong responses when they return to civilian life, such as panic and anxiety, often triggered by seemingly innocuous events like fireworks. 

Exposure therapy, a widely employed approach in the treatment of PTSD, systematically exposes individuals to the stimuli that trigger their fear with the aim of teaching them that these stimuli no longer predict danger; the effectiveness of exposure therapy varies among individuals.

Zoladz investigated whether the fungal psychedelic psilocybin has the potential to augment the fear “extinction” process involved in exposure therapy. Psilocybin is well-known for its ability to increase serotonin activity, a neurotransmitter associated with mood regulation and fear processing. Remarkable results ensued.

“In a nutshell, we found that low doses of psilocybin had different effects in male and female rats,” Zoladz said. “In males, psilocybin increased the rate of extinction and promoted a long-term reduction in their fear. In females, psilocybin actually slowed extinction and led to greater fear.”

“Our findings highlight the importance of taking biological sex into consideration when studying the therapeutic value of psychedelic substances,” said Zoladz.